The Waterfall Method is No Way to Plan Your Life

I have a new mentee, her name’s AY Daring and you should check her out because she’s awesome.

The other day we were talking about what she wants to do with her life, and she has this great stuff that she’s doing with respect to LGBT youth, and I said, “sure, that’s great but will there be a need for that in 20 years?” Honestly I hope there won’t be – I mean, look at how far we’ve come in terms of acceptance as a society.

This led me to talk about how you don’t want to use the Waterfall approach to planning your life – an agile approach is better because 1. we live in times where things are changing fast and 2. I think an agile approach to life planning makes for a more interesting life because you will be able to take advantage of options that don’t even exist now.

This is not to say that AY may not have found her life’s passion. Just that she doesn’t need to make that decision now.

Waterfall Model

Credit: wikipedia

Anyway, let’s break down what the waterfall method is. Basically, it’s the idea that first you identify all the requirements of your project, and then you design it. Only when the design is done do you implement it. Eventually, it’s all implemented and you test it. And this is normally when you discover that either the project has taken so long that it is obsolete, or that it is extremely broken and you go back to fix it. In theory, eventually the project is maintained. The reality is that the majority of software projects are late and/or over budget or fail completely.

The waterfall method is a terrible way to plan a software project, and perhaps a worse way to plan your life. The parallel would be, school is the requirements phase and you would never leave it and join the real world – you’d definitely be over budget then!

Agile is based on iterative or incremental development. Iterations in the scrum process are typically 1-2 weeks, and every day there is a daily stand up where you say what you did yesterday, what you hope to do today, and what roadblocks you have. The parallel in life might be weekly or monthly checkins with your mentor(s).

I’m not saying that big picture is not important, but there is no need – I would say even, no point – planning out your whole life in advance. First up – choosing what you want to spend your whole life on is a huge decision. Choosing what project you’re devoting yourself to for the next 3 months to 1 year is a smaller, and more realistic way to go. A theme, or general direction is more than enough. Identifying places where you might be lacking skills and choosing a path that ensures you build them as you go along allows you to stay flexible.

I am 25 and I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. That’s OK! I just try and prepare myself for the new – and even more awesome things – that will become possible as I go. I have a vague, but ambitious theme of world changing. Awesome Ottawa fits into this (more awesome is always better than less awesome), as does CompSci Woman (need more women in tech to code a better world). What skills am I working on right now? Leadership – because it seems like a crucial skill for world changing. Communication – because I need to be able to articulate what I’m doing and why it’s important, and also I must share what I’m learning along the way. Software Engineering – much as industrial research appealed to me I decided that I needed to find a job where I would ship products; I think this is a really important thing to know.

AY’s theme seems to be community building. But themes change and evolve, so we’ll see. Meanwhile at our next mentoring chat I’ll be asking – what did you do since we last spoke? What do you plan to do next? And what’s standing in your way?

bottle of dreams

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